If you ever found yourself lost in the wilderness, would you know what to do? The natural environment is a complex place and it takes knowledge, confidence, and first-hand experience to survive.
The popular television show Survivor puts the spotlight on contestants who use their instincts to survive in a remote location. Since then, similar reality shows have gained in popularity, including Running Wild with Bear Grylls where the Irish adventurer takes celebrities into the wilderness for 48 hours and teaches them survival techniques. Also, The Weather Channel’s SOS: How to Survive features true stories of people battling severe weather elements and provides tips from a survival expert on how to overcome dangerous situations.
You don’t have to be on these shows to challenge your skills against the natural world. To learn what it’s like to survive in nature, the town of New Castle Recreation & Parks is offering two wilderness survival programs, Primitive Survival Skills and the First 24. They will take place in Gedney Park in April. “I’m always looking for out-of-the-box programming. These classes are hands-on learning and get kids outside. The kids really like that,” said Bill Garrison, Assistant Superintendent of the Town of New Castle.
Oliver Jacobs, 10, of Chappaqua, attended both classes. “I’m interested in survival and read a lot of books on it. I thought it was really fun to learn survival skills. We played games and they all had something to do with nature and sometimes animals,” said Jacobs who learned how to make a waterproof shelter using sticks and leaves. “All the kids built it together. I felt kind of proud of myself and the people in my group,” he said. Other benefits were making new friends and learning from the instructor. “I would recommend anyone to take the class because it’s a lot of fun, you learn important survival skills, and you learn things you can do to respect nature.”
The programs were created and led by Zach Fisher of Patterson, who is a primitive skills educator and licensed N.Y. State Guide, and also Wilderness First Responder Certified. His experiences have given him a greater understanding of himself, others, and man’s relationship with the natural world. “I think this is an invaluable experience to go along with skills that can potentially be life-saving. In addition, there’s a direct correlation between someone’s understanding of nature and their desire to conserve it, so this is also part of my duty toward the preservation of our valuable wild resources,” said Fisher.
Primitive Survival Skills
Primitive Survival Skills, an after-school program for children in grades 5-8, offers practical instruction and hands-on activities on wilderness survival that involve survival skills, sense awareness, team projects, motor skills and more. Some of the fun, educational activities include making foraged tea, playing games, talking about plants and trees and tracking animals. “It’s tons of fun and we laugh a lot. We do a lot of game playing and joking around, but I make sure to include a lot of useful content at the same time,” said Fisher. “I also include at least one lecture on an essential skill, like shelter building or fire-making. Depending on the program, I might include a long-term project, like making a bow, a basket, or a bone knife.”
Rose Kory, 11, and her sister Natasha, 10, also took Primitive Skills. “If you want to learn about using your senses and getting more in touch with nature, you’ll enjoy this class,” said Rose. She learned skills such as starting a fire and making a bow and arrow. Her sister Natasha said, “I liked that you do team work plus I made a friend.” Marcus Arnold, 10, of Chappaqua, decided to take Primitive Skills because he was interested in learning about survival too. “I made a house in the wild using sticks, leaves and moss. We all did it together. It was a very fun experience to work with other people,” said Marcus.
At the end of the program, the children come away with useful information. “They leave with a foundational knowledge of what it takes to survive in a wilderness setting, a bunch of new games, and a heightened awareness and respect for the world around them,” explained Fisher, referencing the important bond between man and nature. “I think we are all experiencing a bit of separation anxiety in regards to our relationship with nature. People want to feel safe in the natural world and these classes help them feel a little more prepared.” The program ends with a skills-based competition and awards ceremony.
The First 24 is a one-day program featuring primitive and modern skills to help you survive within the first 24 hours of being lost in a wilderness situation. The hands-on program is geared to adults and youths (minimum age 10). “This course is designed for people who spend some time in nature, whether it be hiking, backpacking or for work,” said Fisher. Families who are outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to attend. Some of the games and demonstrations include map, trail and compass reading; making a survival kit; building a debris shelter and fire structures; lighting techniques; how to communicate if lost; and water filtration and disinfection.
As an adult attending the program, Milton Roman, of Yonkers, appreciated Fisher’s knowledge and experience. “He’s compassionate and willing to let you express yourself. What was nice was it was generations working together to divide the skills. It was a group experiential activity and more exciting. It has a process and an end result,” said Roman. “With the guidance of Zach, your view becomes wider and this gives them [kids] an opportunity to see what nature is like. You see the world in a different perspective.” At the conclusion, participants have many take-aways. “They’ll have an advanced understanding of what to do if they get lost in the woods, a new set of skills, and hopefully a respect and reverence for the natural world,” said Fisher.
Overall the classes encourage participants to expand their world. “I try my best to get people to go outside of their comfort zone, to get dirty, hands-on, to ask lots of questions and be involved in the process,” he said. “I try to create the feeling of community, which I think is one the most essential parts of life.”
Registration begins March 12. For more information and to register online, visit mynewcastle.org or call the Town of New Castle Recreation & Parks at (914) 238-3909.